Possible bike "chop shop" busted in Lake City, Wa.
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Seattle police are investigating a man suspected of collecting of stolen bicycles in a Lake City storage facility and selling them on Craigslist.
The man, who is not being named because he hasn't been charged, has a lengthy criminal history including arrests for burglary and bicycle theft, according to court documents. He recently pleaded guilty to an expedited felony charge of second-degree possession of stolen property stemming from an unrelated case involving a bike worth $1,400, court records show.
Investigators say at least one of the bikes found at the man's Lake City Public Storage unit was stolen from Gas Works Park in December.
Shortly after midnight March 16, utility workers on the roof of the storage facility noticed what they described to police as a handful of people stripping bicycles in the vehicle bay. The group was moving dozens of bicycles, they said.
Police stopped three men. The man with the lengthy criminal history, 45, said he owned the bicycles being moved in the storage facility elevator. The man said he'd bought them on Craigslist, had checked their serial numbers and planned to resell them on the Web site. He offered to let officers check serial numbers of bikes in his unit.
When officers got to the roughly 10-by-10-foot unit, they found it "stacked floor-to-ceiling with disassembled bicycles (frames, wheels, accessories) and recognized them as mostly high-value and some specialized bikes," North Precinct Detective Dain Jones wrote in an affidavit used to obtain a search warrant. "The bikes and parts were stacked in jumbles without any reasonable effort at organization or for concern of damage; they were literally piled in heaps against each other."
Police said it was also obvious that the man and his girlfriend, 26, were living in the unit. The woman was asleep there when officers arrived.
"Moreover, they found people obviously living inside other nearby storage units and heard snoring coming from others," Jones wrote. "Some of those 'occupants' even had space heaters hooked up to extension cords, creating a substantial risk of fire."
Jones reported that the officers didn't do a close search of the unit initially, but examined the bikes in the common-area elevator and found the one reported stolen from Gas Works Park. The man suspected of stealing it told police he was surprised because he'd checked the serial number, according to court documents.
The man with the extensive criminal record was arrested for possession of stolen property, but released the following evening. The others at the scene were indentified and released.
Police found the man's phone number linked to several Craigslist posts for a seller of "Road Bikes Galore!!!!!!!!!!!"
During a March 16 search of the locker, police seized 14 bicycles, 20 bike frames and 42 bike wheels. The investigation continues and has not been referred to the King County Prosecutor's Office.